Why all the world’s a stage for Shakespeare


From House of Cards to Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, the influence of Shakespeare today pervades every corner of the world in a way few cultural diplomats can ever think of. Paradoxically, Shakespeare’s works remain one of the fundamental pillars of modern culture, shaping universal values about human character, relationships, youth and age, leadership and much more. Here is a look at some of the inspirations and adaptations spawned by Shakespeare’s immortal plays.

5 clever Shakespeare adaptations by Hollywood

Here are films that lift key elements of the Bard’s works while taking liberties with the original plots

There are adaptations and then there are clever Shakespeare adaptations, where filmmakers base their main plots around the Bard’s works but give it their own twist. Here are some high-profile Hollywood films that you might not have known were inspired by the playwright’s writing.



My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Gus Van Sant’s widely-praised coming-of-age film starring Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix was based on Henry IV. The film follows two street hustlers, Mike (Phoenix) and Scott (Reeves), as they set out to find Mike’s mother, who abandoned him as a child, but instead end up discovering many things about each other and about life.



10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

This romantic comedy was the breakthrough of Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Julia Stiles. Set in an American high school, it told the story of Cameron (Gordon-Levitt) who falls in love with a girl. But before the couple can date, they need to fulfil the girl’s father’s dating rule: she is only allowed to date if her sister Kat (Stiles) dates too. So they hire Patrick (Ledger) to woo Kat. Patrick and Kat end up falling in love but Kat discovers his original intention and all hell breaks loose. The screenplay is an adaptation of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.



Throne of Blood (1957)

Often cited as one of the best film adaptations of Macbeth, seminal filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s epic takes the Shakespeare story to Japan with samurai warriors as the noblemen. Generals Washizu and Miki are stopped after a battle by a spirit who predicts their futures. Washizu, in his ambition to have all of the prophecies fulfilled, commits a grievous crime but is haunted later in life.

Although Kurosawa took many liberties with Shakespeare’s story, it’s often called the most successful film version of Macbeth.



O (2001)

This cleverly titled drama is an adaptation of Othello, and tells the story of Odin (Mekhi Phifer), a basketball star whose rising popularity causes much consternation with his best friend Hugo (Josh Harnett). Consumed by jealousy, Hugo plans to destroy Odin’s relationship with his girlfriend Desi (Julia Stiles) but the scheme has tragic consequences. The film was originally supposed to release in April 1999 but was shelved for two years due to the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999.



She’s the Man (2006)

Shakespeare’s comedy of errors Twelfth Night gets an American high school twist with Amanda Bynes playing Viola, a soccer player (because America) whose girls’ team is cut but is refused when she tries to join the boys’ team. She then hatches a plan to sign up for the team pretending to be her twin brother. That move, predictably, sets off a series of comic situations. The film, also featuring Channing Tatum, didn’t do very well at the box office or with critics. “She’s the Man settles for unconvincing slapstick aimed at 12-year-olds and gags Shakespeare would have rejected as ancient,” said Hollywood Reporter.


6 ‘Macbeth’ film adaptations in Hollywood

Shakespeare’s works have inspired thousands of films. Here are some notable interpretations of one of his tragedies

An ambitious man and his equally driven wife’s hunger for power takes a dark and eventually tragic turn. The premise of William Shakespear’s ‘Macbeth’ has inspired many Hollywood films over the years. Here are six notable ones:



Macbeth (1948) by Orson Welles

Although it received overwhelmingly bad reviews upon its release, this adaptation by the legendary Orson Welles is now considered one of his best works. Welles made the film on a limited budget, insisted the cast speak in a Scottish accent and played the title role himself. It still made a profit for the studio, though.



Throne of Blood (1957)

Often cited as one of the best film adaptations of Macbeth, seminal filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s epic takes the Shakespeare story to Japan with samurai warriors as the noblemen. Generals Washizu and Miki are stopped after a battle by a spirit who predicts their futures. Washizu, in his ambition to have all of the prophecies fulfilled, commits a grievous crime but is haunted later in life.

Although Kurosawa took many liberties with Shakespeare’s story, it’s often called the most successful film version of Macbeth.



Macbeth (1971) by Roman Polanski

The tragic premise of this adaptation by the controversial French-Polish director Roman Polanski is as dark as the theme. Polanski made this film after coming out of depression following the gruesome murder of his wife, the actress Sharon Tate, in 1969. After struggling with financiers, Polanski eventually got Playboy founder Hugh Hefner to finance the film, which many criticised for its nude scenes upon its release. But this adaptation, starring Jon Finch in the title role, still received generally favourable reviews.



Macbeth (2006) by Geoffrey Wright

Shakespeare goes Down Under in this adaptation set in the Australian underworld.  Sam Worthington, of Avatar fame, plays Macbeth, whose desire for power leads him down a dark murderous path. While the film was a hit in its home country, it isn’t very well known internationally.



Macbeth (2010) by Rupert Goold

English theatre director Rupert Goold adapted his stage version of Macbeth for a TV movie and went on to win a Peabody Award. Patrick Stewart, already known for his theatre work, gets his turn as Macbeth and went on to be nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance. Shot in record time, the film is known for its long shots.



Macbeth (2015) by Justin Kurzel

Michael Fassbender got his turn in the Shakespeare spotlight playing Macbeth with this faithful adaptation also starring another acting powerhouse, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, as Lady Macbeth. Fassbender has received almost universal praise for his portrayal of the complex character, many calling it ‘mesmerising’.



Breaking Bard, Bollywood style

William Shakespeare’s classics are a source of inspiration for many Indian filmmakers. tabloid! puts together a list of films

Nobody does tragedy and human frailties like William Shakespeare. Or, for that matter, Bollywood filmmakers.


His works are a playground for filmmakers who are looking to make films on love, greed, deceit and betrayal. Here is a list of Bollywood and Malayalam films that have inspired filmmakers to give their own spin to the Bard’s classics:



Film: Omkara (2006).

Based on: Othello.

Stars: Saif Ali Khan, Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor.

Set in the rugged terrain of Uttar Pradesh, director Vishal Bharadwaj does an outstanding job of re-creating Othello, a love story fuelled by jealousy and betrayal, in an Indian context. While Devgn played the social outcast, army leader Omkara (Othello) and Kareena Kapoor played his beautiful wife Dolly (Desdemona), it was his loyal friend Saif Ali Khan who shone as the scheming villain, Langda Tyagi.

The scene in which Tyagi plants the seeds of doubt in Omkara’s mind about his wife’s fidelity is a knock-out. Brilliant acting by its cast, including Konkona Sen Sharma in a fleeting role as Tyagi’s wife, and good music makes this film one of Bharadwaj’s best films to date.



Film: Haider (2014).

Based on: Hamlet

Stars: Tabu, KK Menon, Shahid Kapoor and Irrfan Khan.

Director Vishal Bharadwaj chose to set his adaptation of Hamlet in 1995 Kashmir, a period in which the Indian state saw political unrest and military intervention.

Surprisingly, Shahid Kapoor, who played the title role of a son grappling with his father’s disappearance and his mother’s affair with his own uncle, isn’t the highlight of this drama. Tabu, who plays his mother Ghazala, steals Kapoor’s thunder with her quiet and confident acting. Kay Kay Menon, as Haider’s wily uncle and his father’s murderer, lends ample support. Watch this film for Kashmir too. It offers a window to the political insurgency that destroyed the lives of many civilians and how the war can ravage the lives of the locals.



Film: Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (2003).

Based on: Romeo and Juliet.

Stars: Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.

Beautiful people: check; grand locations: check; mighty emotions: check; balcony scene with peacocks: check. Welcome to the romantic and fantastical world created by director Sanjay Leela Bhansali for his version of Shakespeare’s love tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, who played doomed lovers from two warring clans in Gujarat, were earnest in their portrayals and had great chemistry. But if I had to choose favourites, it was Padukone who packed a punch in this lush love story. While the second half meanders, the first half is a neat piece of filmmaking.



Film: Maqbool (2003).

Based on: Macbeth.

Stars: Irrfan Khan and Tabu.

This tragic tale of blinding greed and power didn’t do well at the box-office because our enjoyment was directly proportional to our command over Urdu and our familiarity with the original text. If you are a stranger to the original Macbeth, then several sequences in the film won’t add up. Director Vishal Bharadwaj chose gangsters in Mumbai to bring the adaptation alive. While Khan, as a hardened criminal who’s manipulated by his boss’ mistress (Tabu), is convincing, there are too many convoluted twists in this dark drama to make it riveting.



Film: Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988).

Based on: Romeo and Juliet.

Stars: Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla.

QSQT put Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla on the Bollywood map. These two as young, impressionable lovers who elope and play house on top of a hill, might seem outdated now, but QSQT still has the power to move you. Their idyllic love story also has great songs. This is also your chance to see Khan as a youthful, wide-eyed young man who would die for love. Their emotions are so pure and pristine, that the film may make you believe in the power of first love.



Film: Kaliyattam (1997).

Based on: Othello

Stars: Manju Warrier, Lal and Suresh Gopi.

Set against the backdrop of Theyyam, a traditional dance form in Kerala, director Jayaraj teaches us a thing or two about moving away from the fixed template of Othello, but retaining the magic and pathos of the original. Instead of Venice, the story takes place in northern Malabar region of Kerala.

Actress Manju Warrier is terrific as Thamara, the lady from a higher caste who captures the interest of the diffident Perumalayan (Suresh Gopi in the role of Othello). The scene in which he suffocates his wife with his pillow is one of Gopi’s best. The grief and the loathing spurred by jealousy on his face is spot on. Lal, who played the scheming Iago, is a delight to watch too. Both the director and actor Gopi won National Awards for this film.



Film: Kannaki (2001).

Based on: Antony and Cleopatra

Stars: Nandita Das and Lal

What’s it about: This is director Jayaraj’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Once again, the director takes pride in transplanting Shakespeare’s works to a rustic Indian setting. Instead of the Roman Republic, we are transported to a remote Indian village where cock fighting is prevalent. The role of Cleopatra, the alluring beauty is played by Bollywood actress and director Nandita Das. It’s her relationship with Manickam, played by Lal, which keeps this tragedy alive.



Film: Ambikapathi (1937)Images

Based on: Romeo and Juliet

Stars: M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, M.R. Santhanalakshmi

Directed by an Englishman, Ellis R. Dungan, this love story of Ambikapathi, (son of Tamil poet Kambar) and Princess Amaravathi (daughter of King Kulothunga Chola) was set in the Chola Empire of 1083AD. The lead roles were played by M.K.T. Bhagavathar and M.R. Santhanalakshmi with P.B. Rangachari playing King Kulothunga Chola. Made in black and white, it was a hit at the box office, running for one year at Gaiety Theatre in what was then called Madras. It was selected as the second-best film of 1937 by the Madras Film Ballot. Bhagavathar got the best actor award, making him the first superstar of Tamil cinema. Tamil films Devadas (1953) and Ambikapathi (1957) followed this theme. Sivaji Ganesan and Bhanumathi played the leadsin the 1957 version of Ambikapathi.



Shakespeare in Arab cinema

On the occasion of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, we take a look at key adaptations of his works

400 years after the birth of Shakespeare, his works are still being revered, revisited and recreated in virtually every language. We take a look at his impact on the world of Arab cinema, and some of the key adaptations of King Lear, Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello over the decades.


Title: Hakamat Al Mahkama (The Court Has Ruled)

Director: Ahmad Yahya

Starring: Majida Al Khatib, Yusra, Yousuf Shaban, Fareed Shawqi

Based on: King Lear

Fareed Al Shawqi both wrote and starred in this 1981 adaptation of King Lear. In it, he’s Jalal, a father of two. His youngest daughter Hala (Yusra) is soft on him, but his oldest daughter Inas (Majida Al Khatib) and her husband Adel (Yousuf Shaban) are greedy for his money. When Jalal marries his young nurse, Adel finds proof that his father-in-law spent some time being treated for neurological diseases and uses this information to eventually take over Jalal’s funds and properties.


Title: Ah Min Hawa’a (Oh, Eve)

Director: Fatin Abdul Wahab

Starring: Rushdi Abaza, Lubna Abdul Aziz

Based on: Taming of the Shrew

This 1962 film played around with the original concept of Taming of the Shrew. Amira (Lubna Abdul Aziz) is a ferocious woman who hates men, and her grandfather swears not to marry off her younger sister until Amira marries. Hassan (Rushdi Abaza) is her latest suitor, whom she doesn’t quite take to.


Title: Mamnnoo Al Hob (Forbidden Love)

Director Mohammad Karim

Starring: Mohammad Abdul Wahab and Madiha Yusri

Based on: Romeo and Juliet

Released in 1942, the film took Romeo and Juliet to a more lighthearted place. Two families battle it out for unclear reasons and the star-crossed lovers, caught in between, don’t have to die for each other in the end.


Title: Shohada’a Al Gharam (Martyrs of Love)

Director: Kamal Salim

Starring: Anwar Wagdy and Laila Murad

Based on: Romeo and Juliet

Another adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, this film took on a more sombre note and stayed faithful to the original ending. Released in 1944, but set in the time of the Mamluks (slaves) in Egypt, the film begins with the protagonist, Badr, going to spy in disguise on his enemy’s family. He lays eyes on Wafa’a and falls in doomed love at first sight.


Title: Yomhel Wala Yohmel (Waits But Does Not Neglect)

Director: Hassan Hafith

Starring: Noor Al Sharif, Fareed Shawqi, Miriam Fakhr Al Din, Mirvat Amin

Based on: Hamlet

One of the few retellings of Hamlet in Arab cinema, this 1979 film borrows from the original text but updates the setting. Instead of the Kingdom of Denmark, it’s set in a popular neighbourhood in Egypt, where the king is but a well-to-do merchant.


Title: Al Ghira Al Qatela (Deadly Jealousy)

Director: Atif Al Tayeb

Starring: Noor Al Sharif, Yahya Al Fakharani, Noora

Based on: Othello

Love, jealousy, betrayal and revenge are all a part of this 1982 film. Omar (Noor Al Sharif) is lifelong best friends with Mokhlis (Yahya Al Fakharani), but Mokhlis has always felt as though he is living in Omar’s shadow. When Omar, an engineer, enters into a financial venture, he meets his beloved Dina (Noora) and marries her. Things go downhill fast from there, as the ever-envious Mokhlis’s schemes wreak havoc.





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